Practical Software Estimation Measurement


Quantifying and Managing Software Project Risk

Quantifying software project risk and having a systematic way of accounting for it in software estimates helps firms determine how much contingency (or management reserve) is needed to protect against factors like scope growth, lower than anticipated productivity, or technical challenges that keep teams from executing project plans as originally intended.  When risk mitigation is an explicit part of the software estimate, we can set reasonable client and management expectations and negotiate practical project plans with a higher likelihood of success.

Dealing with Uncertainty

At the time most software estimates are performed, detailed design is incomplete and major decisions about how the system will be designed, coded, tested, and delivered have not yet been made.  Faced with imperfect information, estimators must supply educated guesses – hopefully based on sound requirements and performance data from completed projects - about the final delivered size, productivity, team size, and schedule.  Because the inputs to the estimate are uncertain, the final outcomes are also uncertain.

When we estimate that a project will most likely take 6 months and 8 full-time staff to execute, we really should say, “Based on our analysis and past performance data, we expect the project to take 6 months and use 8 people, but the schedule could vary by as much as 15% and the budget by up to 20%.” But all too often, clients and management expect “single point” estimates based more on optimism than careful risk analysis.

New Video: Benefits of Top-Down Estimation for Software Projects


Larry Putnam, Jr. recently presented a short tutorial on the benefits of Top-Down Estimation for Software Projects:

  • Top-Down Estimation methods provide the data needed to make early decisions because most software project schedule and cost decisions are made early in the project or product lifecycle 
  • Savings Associated with Top-Down Estimation
  • Top-Down Estimation vs. Detailed Planning
  • Sum of the Parts Don’t Equal the Total Time & Effort Required
  • SLIM Software Equation Supports Effective Negotiation

Watch the video or continue reading to learn why the QSM SLIM methodology gets you the data and analytics to make software project commitments with confidence.


Benefit: Provides Data Needed for Early Software Project Cost and Schedule Decisions

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New Video: SLIM-Control Software Project Tracking & Forecasting Tool

What you measure matters! Your data analysis is only as good as the data you are collecting. As a project manager and process improvement consultant, I was so excited when I first learned about QSM's project tracking software, SLIM-Control®, because product size, quality, and custom metrics are the best metrics to show the true project status.

Mind you, this discovery took place a long time ago when project tracking was primarily limited to data on staff levels, cost, and duration. These measures provided indirect evidence that work was being done, but gave little insight into exactly what work was actually being done and when it would be completed. I remember a large project team at my company that got into hot water because they overran a fixed-priced project by $1 Million!  My process improvement team member said, "You don't overrun by $1 Million overnight!"  There were probably several issues that contributed to this colossal failure, but certainly one was the lack of visibility into the project status or health on a regular basis to help managers and teams identify potential problems and fix them before they became unsurmountable.

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Software Reliability Modeling in the Age of Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery

Defects Prediction Curve

Quantitative Software Management (QSM) consultant, James Heires, recently discussed the benefits of estimating and forecasting software reliability at RAMS (Reliability & Maintainability Symposium) 2023.  Theme for the conference:  "Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) application to our R&M tools, techniques, and processes (and products) promises speed and scale.... When program management instantiates advanced techniques into R&M engineering activities, such as digital design and machine learning and other advanced analytics, it enables products to evolve at a much more proactive, effective, and cost-efficient approach.  Ultimately it facilitates increased speed to market, adoption of new technology, and especially for repairable systems, products that are more reliable, maintainable, and supportable."

Up Your Game - 7 Capabilities for Better Software Project and Portfolio Management

Up Your Game: 7 Capabilities for Better Software Project and Portfolio Management


Businesses and organizations worldwide need ways to organize and execute the work required to meet strategic objectives.  Project Portfolio Management (PPM) software tools “support the selection, planning and execution of a variety of different work packages or containers, including, but not limited to, traditional projects. They often fold in collaboration and communication capabilities and allow work teams and project offices to report, monitor, and identify course correction in resource-intensive project and work environments[1].”

Software development and digital transformation initiatives make up a considerable chunk of business and government portfolios in any given year.  The financial, personnel, and time resources needed are significant.  Information Technology (IT) programs and portfolios are strategic and high profile and must be planned and managed with great care.

QSM’s Software Lifecycle Management (SLIM) suite of software tools is sometimes confused with PPM applications.  SLIM-Suite doesn’t compete with PPM solutions - they complement them, supporting Project Management Institute (PMI) project and portfolio planning and management standards several ways.  SLIM works with PPM tools by providing essential data and capabilities to:

Upcoming Webinar: Top 5 Digital Transformation Challenges & How to Overcome Them

Top 5 Digital Transformation Challenges & How to Overcome Them

This year, thousands of digital transformation managers will begin or continue their journey to develop new processes within their organizations.  They’ll often hire outside vendors to help them either on an advisory basis or to help with the actual migration, development, and integration work. Unfortunately, a lot of these organizations will face big challenges related to cost, scope, quality, and schedule planning. In a recent McKinsey survey, the success rate for digital transformation was found to be less than 30%.

So what makes them so challenging? Presenter Keith Ciocco posed this question to his over 5000 Linkedin connections of software professionals to find out what are their biggest digital transformation challenges. In this webinar, Keith Ciocco will share the top 5 responses and discuss best practices to overcome these roadblocks through better estimation and planning strategies.

Join us Wednesday June 21st at 1pm EDT for what is sure to be an insightful and interactive QSM presentation with Q&A.

Register now!

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Webinars Digital Transformation Estimation

Software Estimation Basics: What Is a Top-Down Estimate?

With over 45 years of experience in the software estimation field, you might say we know a thing or two about the subject.  This is why we wanted to define key principles with our Software Estimation Basics series. Let's start with a common question we hear a lot: what is a top-down estimate?

What Is Top-Down Estimation?

Top-down estimation is a technique that uses high-level, summary project goals or constraints - scope, cost, schedule, resources, and productivity - to evaluate all possible scenarios to meet a project's goals and the risks associated with each scenario.  Top-down estimation is the best approach to employ early in the project and project portfolio planning process when very little is known.

A common misconception about top-down estimation is that it is used solely to produce a ballpark figure for cost. As we'll explain more in this post, good top-down estimates calculate values for key management metrics, not just cost.

A top-down estimate can be generated by anyone who needs to know a software project's budget, schedule, or staffing - project managers, anyone in the PMO, technical architects, cost analysts, and product owners. C-suite executives can leverage top-down estimates when they need to approve project budgets and schedules.

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Estimation SLIM-Estimate

New Resource: The Complete Guide to Software Process Improvement

The Complete Guide to Software Process Improvement

Software development has always been challenging.  In the digital age, where every company is a technology company, successful business outcomes depend on successful software project outcomes.  A well-designed, flexible software process improvement plan is critical to getting the right technology, people, and practices in sync and delivering at the highest level.

This in-depth guide will teach you everything you need to know about software processes improvement. You will learn critical strategies, like:

  • how to to build practices that align with organization strategies,
  • how to promote efficiency and quality,
  • and how to adapt to business and technology innovation.

Written by industry expert Laura Zuber, this guide shares a wealth of knowledge from Laura's 28 years of experience in software development consulting and early adoption of Capability Maturity Model (CMM) guidelines. Implementing these best practices will help you achieve process maturity at your organization.

Read the guide!

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Process Improvement Articles

What's the Most Challenging Part of Digital Transformation?

Would you say it's resource capacity planning? Building continuous integration? Knowing if vendor bids are competitive? As a follow up to a recent post I shared on reducing uncertainty in digital transformation, I posed this question to my LinkedIn connections in a poll, giving them options I sourced from respected colleagues with experience in digital transformations. I also asked for suggestions not listed, in case there were challenges I might not have considered.  I appreciated the great feedback I received and wanted to share the valuable insights I gleaned from the poll.

Digital Transformation Challenges Poll

42% voted for “Capacity Planning” as their biggest challenge, 29% voted for “Continuous Integration,” 10% voted for “Vendor Bid Evaluations,” and 19% voted “Other."

What if You had a Navigation System for Digital Transformation?

How many times have you been in a situation when plans for cost, quality, staff, or duration have been confirmed, but a few weeks later the program veers off track? Maybe the targets were unrealistic, the requirements changed, or there were communication disconnects along the way. Unfortunately, these issues happen all the time with digital transformation, often times after the delivery roadmap has already been set!

Digital transformation is a big topic these days and the benefits can be huge. Many organizations are re-examining the way they do business from rebuilding in-house systems, to moving to the cloud, to changing how they interact with their clients. They are trying to answer questions like: how can we improve our decision making processes? And how can we better support our clients? Building the technology to support changes can be a complicated road.  Wouldn’t it be great to be able to leverage a navigation system for these challenges? A system that provides a big picture view and also the necessary details to help guide your team as they move forward. At QSM, we provide this type of solution for our clients. It’s called SLIM-Control, a data-driven adaptive forecasting tool that curve fits to the actual data that directly reflects what’s happening throughout the transformation process.  The cost, schedule, and quality forecasts are generated by the actual data and QSM's empirically-based models.